Where is the line drawn between fantasy and reality? Between what we see and what we imagine? Read on as Pierre Boodhoo, in his first story for The Fictional Café, takes us on this exploration.
“Ayesha, my popet, the eve is upon us. It is time to awaken.”
Mother’s voice sparks the fire. The embodiment of Mother’s love spreads within her as limbs come alive. After a few blinks, the blurriness fades. The pale, sharp features of Mother’s face hide between strands of green and black hair as she comes into focus. Mother captivates her. “Mother!” Ayesha throws her arms around Mother’s waist. Herhand pats Ayesha’s head and she beams. Ayesha releases Mother and waits patiently. Mother straightens her clothes and dusts herself off. Ayesha imagines herself in a mature body resembling Mother. If I end up like her someday, I would dance in the forest and all the creatures would stop and stare. When Mother finishes, she signals Ayesha to twirl. Ayesha happily complies. Mother’s nod signals the end of this awakening ritual. A noise from downstairs catches Ayesha’s attention. “Is Father awake?”
“Yes, popet, he is downstairs hard at work. There are clients who wish to have my creations. He readies them for transport.” Mother pauses; her left ear twitches as something catches her attention. She glides to the window overlooking the backyard. Her thin, delicate fingers part the veil and she stares out the portal. A mischievous smile appears. “This is a good eve; the air is thick with magic.” She glances at Ayesha from the corner of her eye. “It would be such a waste to spend it indoors. What do you think, Ayesha? Would you like to go outside to play?”
The prospect excites her. Flame burns bright within her chest. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” She hugs Mother before racing from the room.
As her little popet exits, Mother’s gaze returns to the outer world. A blue light shines in a pair of bushes between the trees. It trembles slightly before disappearing. The shadow of a boy stands in its place. “Brother Will has led another astray. I wonder why this one has lost its way.” Mother makes her way to the corner of the room. Candles ignite as she settles by a working station. Beside it, wax boils in a large pot. A five-foot frame, resembling a body, sits in the center covered by some type of mold. She starts sculpting human features. “A boy on the border of the change. It would be a good addition.” As work progresses, Mother sings:
Come little lost one
out from the forest to play.
Forget all your worries,
if just for today.
Run across the fields
with a smile on your face.
Draw closer to nature’s loving embrace.
Down the hall, Ayesha races. Her steps descend the stairway, mimicking the soft patter of an approaching storm. In her wake, Mother’s song echoes and energizes Ayesha’s flame. The sight and fragrance of many plants and flowers engulf her senses. The house is a mixture of the natural and unnatural. It feels alive at times when it breathes. Boxes of various sizes stand to the left of the open back door. Ayesha pauses at the den’s entrance. Father carefully boxes another of Mother’s projects. His body stiffens as his ears perk up. Then, as if by some unheard command, he relaxes and continues his work. Ayesha chooses not to disturb him and continues on her way.
Ayesha enters the backyard and takes a moment to enjoy the cool breeze with everything it brings. It invigorates her. “It is full of magic.” She mimics Mother’s words, hoping to understand when she gets older. She sweeps her black wavy hair to the side and sets it behind her ear. She races to the backyard’s center with her arms outstretched. Orbs with different hues of a rainbow appear as she passes. Their lights illuminate the surroundings as they rise and circle her. Excited, she laughs. These are the special times she lives for.
Out of the corner of her eye, she notices a face in the bushes. Ayesha pauses and looks in its direction. The face disappears. She strains her senses to catch another sign. There are no more movements. An orange orb floats in front of her, teasing her with its presence. It’s too much to resist. She reaches out and encircles it with her hands. The orb brightens before taking the shape of a tiny human-like creature with wings. Ayesha peers into her hand and the beautiful little fairy creature gives her a smile.
“LET IT GO!”
The voice startles her. A boy runs from the bushes where she had seen the face. The surrounding orbs scatter. Hues shift to blacks, reds and grays. She brings her hands closer to her chest, intent on protecting the fairy she holds.
“LET IT GO!” He reaches out to grab her.
She takes a step back and trips. As she falls, the creature reverts to its orb shape and flies away in a streak of red. Ayesha’s hand reaches for his. She misses and falls again. A crack echoes inside her. She blinks, confused. While searching for the origin of the crack, she notices the messy state of her outfit. Mother will be upset. Ayesha stares daggers at the boy.
He is stunned. This is not how he envisioned their first meeting. The way she looks at him is upsetting. He flexes his hand, unsure of what to do. “I’m sorry . . . I didn’t mean to.” He stumbles for a clear thought. “You shouldn’t do that. You may accidentally hurt them.”
“I would never hurt them. They are my friends!” Ayesha stands to have a better view of her ruined clothes. This is no longer fun. She hastily retreats to the house.
He wants to stop her but remains still. Stupid! Stupid! It isn’t supposed to go like this. He recalls the memory of when he first saw her. A week ago, he walked alone in the woods and spotted a floating blue fire he thought was a rare firefly. Following it led him to the edge of this property, where he first came across her playing. He could not take his eyes away. That evening he returned home and told his mom about it. But she ignored him, her attention focused on Tommy B, her latest boyfriend. He doesn’t like Tom. He liked it before, when it was just him and his mom. However, that girl made him forget about that. Today was supposed to be the day he spoke to her.
A tingling sensation interrupts his thoughts. He feels like someone is watching him. He looks around with unease. I should go. After taking a final look back at the house, he retreats into the woods. From the window, Mother watches him depart. Her finger taps against her cheek as she considers the possibility. The memory of another lost child comes to mind as the patter of feet draws closer to her workroom.
It is raining. She does not like the rain. Mother does not let her go outside to play. Ayesha looks for something to occupy her time. Mother is working on something new, but won’t let her see. Her mind wanders before settling on yesterday’s events. When the boy comes to mind, her flame rages inside her. If I ever see him again it would be too soon. Mother’s voice echoes through the halls in song. The flame calms as the melody continues. Some time passes before a knock breaks through the melody. The house stills. Curiosity gets the better of her.
She makes her way down the stairs and stops on the last step. She can just make out a small figure outside beyond Father’s large frame. Father’s voice echoes. “How have you come to this place? Are you lost?”
“No, I came to apologize . . .” The tremble in the boy’s voice echoes his unease. He looks past the large man and notices her. “. . . to your daughter.”
Father raises a brow and follows the youth’s gaze to Ayesha on the stairwell. Father’s gaze returns to the boy. “Only those lost can find their way here. They search for something they believe they lack.” Father turns his body and allows the boy a better view inside. “If she is why you are here, then you may enter. Though pay heed, what you think you want and what you need are two different things. They require different levels of sacrifice, lost one.”
“I’m not a lost one. My name is Andre Diggory. And I know why I came.” I’ll see it through this time, he thinks.Andre walks past Father while looking at Ayesha.
Father closes the large wooden door and walks to Ayesha. He sets his hand on her head. “Popet, this one is here for you. After he says what he has to say, you are welcome to play. But do not enter the den or Mother’s workshop.” Ayesha nods. Father turns back to the boy. “Enjoy your stay, Andre Diggory.” Father returns to his place in the den.
Ayesha looks to Andre and leans in close. “What are you doing here?” Her eyes shine with curiosity. The tip of her nose almost touches his.
His cheeks warm as he takes a step back. “I . . . I just wanted to apologize.” He fishes into his pocket and pulls out a ring. “Also, I brought you this.” It is a simple gold ring with an emerald in its center. Mom likes jewelry, maybe she likes them too, he hopes as he holds it toward her.
Ayesha looks down, unsure of what to do. “It’s really nice, but what is it?”
Andre eyes her, unsure if she is joking or serious. “It’s a ring. People wear them on their fingers,” he gulps as his voice lowers. “It was the last thing my dad left me.”
Ayesha takes the ring and slips it on her finger. It hangs loosely. “Is it supposed to be like this?”
Andre shakes his head and removes it from her outstretched hand. He notices a smudge on it. “No, it’s still too big for you. You’ll grow into it.”
“Bigger like Mother?”
“Yeah, bigger like your mom.” He looks at her with some confusion. Even though she looks around his age, she sounds younger.
The flame intensifies from excitement. Ayesha’s smile brightens her face. She hands the ring back to Andre. “Oh, I would like that very much. Will you give it to me then?”
Andre looks away to hide his blush, forgetting his question. “Uh yeah, sure. I can do that.” He tries to change the subject and notices the lighting. “I like the way your lights look.”
Ayesha stares at him before looking around herself. “Is that not how your lights look?”
“No, ours are different. Not as fancy as yours.”
Ayesha decides he is not such a bad boy after all. “Do you like games? My favorite is hide and seek. Would you like to play?”
Isn’t that a kid’s game? Andre notices her excitement, though he cannot help but wonder about her age once more. “Yeah, I guess. Who should it be?”
“You go hide! I’ll be the seeker!” Ayesha chimes. She turns and begins counting before he gets another word out.
He takes in the view of the house and looks towards the den. He decides against going in that direction. Something about her father rubs him the wrong way. Instead, he ascends the stairs. A part of him wonders what her mother looks like. His mind conjures an older version of Ayesha.
“Andre . . .”
He pauses. Did someone call me? He listens as he scans the hallways surrounding him. For a moment, he thinks it is Ayesha. I wouldn’t mind being found quickly. But I can’t make it too easy for her. When she finds me, I can compliment her. Women enjoy compliments. At least mom does. When he returns from his thoughts, he stops walking. When did I . . .? He glances back and notices the staircase is a good distance behind him. How’d I get so far away?
“Andre . . .. ”
Someone is definitely calling me. This situation bothers him. He takes a couple of steps back as he listens for his name. Then he notices the song. The voice singing is captivating. It draws his body toward it without resistance. As he walks down the hall, he notices something strange. The walls move as if they are breathing. But that’s not possible. My eyes are playing tricks on me. It’s just my imagination.
His journey ends in front of a door. Singing emanates from the other side. A golden knob reflects his distorted form. His hand reaches out and turns the knob. The door opens. He pauses and peers in. In the hue of fire’s light, he sees a woman’s back.
Mother turns her head and gazes at Andre. She stops singing and offers him a smile. “Hello, little lost one. Have you come to play?”
This woman’s beauty is beyond words. As he walks into the room, the door closes itself behind him. “Hello ma’am, are you Ayesha’s mom? I am Andre.”
Mother moves her wax-covered hands to her lap. “Andre? From the Greek Andreas? There is power within that name’s meaning. Man . . . warrior, it is a good name.” She tilts her head sideways. “Though, you look more like a Welf to my eyes.”
Andre takes pride in his name and its meaning. He notices the wax figure of a boy’s body, around his height. “What are you working on?” As he nears, his eyes grow heavy.
Mother turns toward the wax figure. “This is my popet. It is meant to be a gift for my little Ayesha. A playmate, a friend and a brother all rolled into one.”
“That sounds nice.” Andre stumbles and shakes his head, trying to wake himself. “But it will be hard for a wax statue to move.” He trips and falls to the ground. He feels so tired. He looks up to see Mother rise and glide toward him.
“Tis true, it would be hard to play with something that has no life. Would you be willing to play with Ayesha as her companion?”
Groggily, Andre nods. He wouldn’t mind being around Ayesha more. From the light beneath the door, a shadowed hand reaches out to him.
Ayesha searches for the boy but cannot find him. He is good at hide and seek. As she seeks, Father appears before her. She stops. “Father, have you seen the boy? The one with the ring?”
Father looks to the staircase as if listening to something. Mother’s voice soon fills the house. Father squats, then rests on one knee. He looks into Ayesha’s eyes and places his hand on her chest. “‘Tis time to sleep, popet.” Before she can repeat her questions, she feels the flame go out. Her body cools and stiffens. Father runs his hands through her hair and fixes areas of wax that have been smudged. He gently picks her up and ascends the staircase.
Later, Father says, “Ayesha, my popet, it is time to awaken. The eve is upon us.”
Mother’s voice sparks the fire within her. The warmth of the flame causes Ayesha to stir. When she sees Mother, she smiles. Mother’s hands smooth out the wax of Ayesha’s face until she is pleased before moving to the figure beside her. It is a little taller than Ayesha. Mother places her hand on its chest. A blue fire surrounds Mother’s hand.
“Welf, popet, it is time to awaken. The eve is upon us.”
The blue fire turns purple before it flows within the wax figure. Ayesha watches as the Welf opens his eyes and stares at Mother. He gives a large smile and hugs her. Ayesha’s eyes beam with excitement. Mother smooths Welf’s features just as she did Ayesha’s own. She looks to Ayesha as she stands in Welf’s embrace. Large wings shimmer behind her in the glow of candlelight.
Outside the Forest
An old man sits in a rocking chair, an old retriever lying at his feet. He stares out of his cabin’s window toward the dark forest at the edge of his property. A radio and a picture of a smiling young girl rests on the small table beside him. The theme music of the news program plays; a reporter starts recounting the events of the day.
“This is Tommy B with the latest from WJBK-TV news. It’s the second week of Andre Diggory’s disappearance. Police are asking for any clues to his whereabouts. So far, the search in the forest has produced no body. Some sources are convinced the boy ran away due to neglect or jealousy. If you are out there Andre, please come home. We want you safe.
“In other news, Madam Zia Taneisha’s latest creation will be revealed to the world at The Otherworldly Wax Museum tomorrow at eight pm. Tune in to hear it live. Back to you, Jason.”
“We hope you find that boy, Tommy,” says Jason.
The man clicks off the radio and rocks his chair a few times. “They’re just wasting their time. They ain’t going to find him.” He takes up the picture and runs his finger over the face of the girl. “Just like they didn’t find my big sister, Kala.” He sighs and looks back out into the darkness of the forest. “Cursed fairies and their mischievous ways. Should never let kids go into that place alone. Gotta warn them to not follow Will and his blue wisp of fire. That’s how they get you.” He sighs as he sets the picture frame down. The girl, closely resembling Ayesha, smiles back at him.
Pierre Boodhoo calls himself a father, a husband, and a storyteller. He says, “I have always had a love of stories, born from my love of mythology, psychology and history. I write to share my creations with others who also enjoy going to different worlds.” He names Neil Gaiman, John Flanagan, Rick Riordan, and Robert Greene among his favorite authors.
Featured image courtesy Sofinette, a French design house of poupette dolls. They date back to the French Middle Ages, when they were named popet.
I thoroughly enjoyed your story, Pierre. I like the way you personified the popets. I felt very relaxed while reading the story, but was wide awake with pleasure at the hour of 4 AM. Your story features intrigue, as well as the emotions of fear, anger, and love. The balance is lovely.
Now that you’ve had your short story published, I hope you feel encouraged to write more…and more. I wish for you, your wife, and your baby to be blessed with love, happiness, good health, enough money, and the same strength of character and brilliance you have always shown,
This is a great short from an emerging writer with many more to come.